There are innumerable heartbreaking stories of children cutting off all ties with their parents in their ripe age. Ill-treating parents, enrolling them at old-age homes, avoiding them, abusing them, even torturing them during the sunset of their lives... the behavior is despicable, appalling and disgraceful. How does the modern world treat its elders? Why do kids push their parents -- who need all the love, care and attention -- into the dark alley? MAI... raises the disturbing issue of a distressed mother discarded by her son.
A subject like this isn't new for the Hindi screen. ZINDAGI [Sanjeev Kumar, Mala Sinha], AVTAAR [Rajesh Khanna, Shabana Azmi] and BAGHBAN [Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini], besides several films, have dealt with elderly parents being neglected by their children. In those films, the senior citizens were mistreated by their kids. In MAI..., the mother is reluctant to admit that her son has discarded her and is embarrassed to stay with her daughter and son-in-law. Therein lies the difference!
The premise may be archaic -- elderly parents being neglected/ignored/mistreated by their family -- but it's relevant even in this day and age of nuclear families and children who don't think beyond themselves. Apparently, the subject matter [screenplay: Manoj Tapadia and Mahesh Kodiyal] demands a sensitive storyteller and director Mahesh Kodiyal executes the material with extreme sincerity and sensitivity.
MAI... banks heavily on the emotional quotient, making you think about the woman who helped her son take the first steps, but the ungrateful son deserts her when she needs to take her last ones. Loaded with emotions, with heart wrenching situations, MAI... is a sincere attempt at telling an uncomplicated story with straightforwardness, with episodes that tug at your heartstrings.
MAI... is about a woman [Asha Bhosle] suffering from Alzheimer, who is tossed between her four children. The only son, who she had great expectations from, isolates her the moment he lands a job in a foreign country. The two youngest daughters try to run away from the responsibility too. The eldest daughter, Madhu [Padmini Kolhapure], a woman of substance, takes a stand against the wishes of her husband [Ram Kapoor] and daughter takes the responsibility of tending for her.
As time progresses, Mai's health deteriorates. The family life of her daughter is in shambles due to the prevailing tension with her husband. However, Madhu balances her disgruntled family and work pressure, until, one day, the condition of her mother forces her to quit her job. At this stage, the relation between Mai and her son-in-law takes a miraculous turn, which changes his life forever.
In this era of new-age cinema and experimental themes, MAI... may come across as an old-fashioned tale, with cliches aplenty, but some subjects can never go out of fashion. The tried and tested formula continues to work despite contrived scenes and situations, if handled with dexterity. That's one of the prime reasons why MAI... works -- the expert handling by its director. Rich in emotions, the film never deviates into unnecessary sub-plots, which explains why the focus remains on the core issue.
Downers? The run time could've been shorter, with Kodiyal doing away with a couple of sequences and songs. Also, a few sequences don't leave much of an impact, perhaps because they seem too predictable. Besides, one of the vital points in the screenplay -- the change of heart of the son-in-law -- seems abrupt and far from convincing. There had to be a strong reason, which is missing here.
Cinematography deserves special mention, mainly because a major chunk of the film is shot indoors [in a home, in this case]. Dialogue are straight out of life and sound so real.
Asha Bhosle, who makes her acting debut with MAI..., surprises you with a controlled, refined, truly wonderful performance. She lends a lot of credibility to her character and makes it seem so genuine. Padmini Kolhapure is supremely efficient, while Ram Kapoor handles his part with flourish. Note Ram's outburst in an inebriated state. His contribution to several sequences is truly wonderful. Both, Padmini and Ram contribute enormously to the dramatic moments, which, frankly, would've fallen flat if entrusted to amateurish actors.
Anupam Kher is perfect in a cameo. Naveen Kaushik, enacting the part of the son, doesn't get much scope, while Shivani Joshi, who plays Padmini and Ram's daughter, is alright.
On the whole, MAI... is an honest attempt. It moves you on several occasions thanks to its emotional quotient, but it needs a strong word of mouth and patronage to sustain from its target audience -- the families.